I walked downtown today to check out the central Philly headquarters for Barack Obama's campaign. It's on 15th and Sansom Street in a little building currently looking for more permanent tenants, but I would guess the landlords are thrilled to house quite possibly the next president of the United States.
I walked in and was quickly directed upstairs to the main hive of activity - a large, open floor spontaneously divided into small groups laboring around tables. Some were focusing on college kids, others voter registration, data entry, and even Chinatown turnout. The air was crackling with the electricity of hope, and pretty much anyone I engaged was excited to talk politics.
A middle-aged white guy was playing quarterback and asked me how he might direct me, based on my abilities to help and my intentions. "Actually, I just came to scope the place out and maybe pick up an Obama sign," I said. "I also run a small blog and thought I might take a few pictures?" Little did he know that my nascent blog audience is an astounding 3 people.
"Sure, have a look around. You can have one of these signs for your window. If you'd like to donate to the campaign please feel free."
So I coughed up $5. Damn it. That was supposed to go towards a burrito at El Fuego.
I wandered around the different tables, amazed at the industry of all these people scurrying around, tapping on laptops, brainstorming, manning phone banks, and chowing down on pork sandwiches and Cheesesteaks (that's right, with a capital "C").
"Somebody donated all this food!" a middle aged black woman exclaimed to me as I stood awkwardly. "Look at all these sandwiches!"
I looked. I began to salivate. I decided that it would be really crass to start chowing down. So instead I signed up to volunteer maybe next week.
It was time to leave. Any more walking around without a task among such passionate devotees would start to draw negative attention, and people might mistake me for a McCain or Hillary mole. I took a quick movie on my camera, grabbed my Obama sign for the front window of my apartment, and left, impressed with how this seemingly headless organism was organizing itself out of thin air.
Toting my Obama sign through the city, casually but with newfound zest, I ducked into a small store to pick up some tasty food. When I took my things to the counter the cashier, an African-American grandmother with large gold hoop earrings, immediately remarked, "Alright! Go Obama!"
Sensing my moment, I replied, "Just checked out his headquarters on 15th and Sansom. I figured I'd give him free advertising from my window with this sign."
The cashier clapped her hands and then shook mine. "Ten percent off for you today, sir!" she said and I watched my bill go down $1.72 with a single keystroke. She looked around the store surreptitiously and then implored me, "Don't tell my manager. He's a Clinton supporter."
"Thank you," I smiled. It was the nicest connection I've had to another Philadelphian in some time.
As I walked home, still smiling, I thought of all the disparate people coming together under the banner of one man and all he represents - change, hope, intelligence. I thought of the massive pyramid of volunteers that supports and lifts men like him up. The particular structure I glimpsed today spans the 50 States, and when seen from a distance must echo the very symbolism of the mighty Egyptian pyramids themselves, which represent the descending rays of the sun.
How do such men stand before the crowds? How do they debate each other without trembling at the knees, or worse yet, succumb to the corrupting influence of ego? I suppose the truly great ones simply let go. They let go of themselves and become transcendental, evanescent voices of something greater. Liberty. Freedom. Justice. Equality. Enlightenment.
May these principles find a voice again.
It was a good trip downtown, even without that burrito.